CES 2012: Gadget feast in age of austerity

It seemed the best of times in the worst of times – by the time the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show ended on Friday, more than 20,000 products had been launched and all records had been broken for companies taking part and exhibition space booked.

This for an industry hit by natural disasters and dire economic conditions in 2011: statistics released by IDC, the market research group, this week showed PC sales edged down in the fourth quarter from the year before.

But Las Vegas is all about putting on a show and the consumer electronics industry was doing its best to lure audiences with new forms for their entertainment in television and computing, amid uncertainties lingering in the global economy.

The TV makers made the biggest impact – with 80in and 92in displays it was hard to avoid them. The images were compelling as well – LG and Samsung have at last mastered large-screen production of state-of-the-art OLED screens and Sony showed off a rich new display technology for TVs where LED lights make up the screen itself rather than backlight it.

Apple’s ability to offer the best user experience and reports that it is working on its own television has galvanised the industry to smarten up its act on internet-connected Smart TVs.

Instead of cluttered interfaces and complex remotes, simpler screens were on show with voice commands and gestures picked up by microphones, and cameras replacing keyboards and button pressing.

While tablets dominated last year’s show, laptops struck back this year in the shape of “ultrabooks” – thin and light Windows notebooks with “instant-on” capabilities. In Lenovo’s Yoga fold-back touchscreen laptop we saw the shape of things to come, when Windows 8, a dual tablet and PC operating system, arrives later this year.

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